Three distinct types of barriers are defined in this WikiAnswers® response:
- structural barriers,
- material barriers, and
- mental barriers.
A physical/structural barrier refers to an object or structure, such as a brick wall or boulder, which impedes and prevents the movement or progress of another object in its intended direction. Structural barriers may also often provide one or more objects protection from the dangerous and destructive force, influence or effect of another object.For example, The Great Barrier Reef, located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland in north-east Australia, is an expansive (133,000 sq. mi.) saltwater ecosystem built upon billions of nearly immobile living ocean organisms, known as coral polyps.1 Coral reefs are often referred to as “barrier reefs;” because, as living biological structures, they provide coastal land environments physical protection against strong ocean currents and waves by slowing down the flow of seawater before it reaches shore.2
Likewise, a physical/material barrier refers to any substantial action, phenomenon, force, influence or object which impedes and prevents any other action, phenomenon, force, influence or object from proceeding toward, arriving at or achieving an intended result. In sharp contrast to protective structural barriers, many material barriers are often considered to have a detrimental effect on the otherwise beneficial forward direction of an object or action toward development, progress and positive change.
For instance, “‘trade barriers,’ […] a general term that describes any government policy or regulation that restricts international trade,” are usually physical or material in nature. Such barriers may take numerous concrete & tangible forms, including tariffs, import/export licenses & quotas, subsidies, voluntary restraints, local content requirements, and embargo.3
Most trade barriers are founded on one common principle: an imposition of cost on trade which in turn increases the price of traded products. Barriers to international trade are often criticized for the negative impact they have on the developing world; where as, “in theory, free trade involves the removal of all such barriers, except perhaps those considered necessary for health and national security,” and has often been touted a panacea for global economic crisis and poverty.4
In addition to structural and material barriers between objects and/or actions, one may often experience mental barriers; which, by contrast, are defined as immaterial, intangible and abstract psycho-ideological and/or spiritual impediments to the achievement of one’s actions or to the construction and conclusion of one’s thoughts. Such cerebral or emotional barriers may be either protective or detrimental in nature.
More often than not, human thought and action may be either challenged or encouraged by both physical (i.e., structural & material) and mental barriers. Let us consider barriers to listening as an example. Physical barriers to effective listening “include hearing impairments, noisy surroundings, speaker’s appearance, speaker’s mannerisms, and lag time,” while mental barriers that may impede, prevent or hamper successful listening may “include inattention, prejudgment, frame of reference, closed-mindedness, and pseudo-listening.”5
A quick comparison of this dichotomous binary grouping of barriers to listening does indeed expose an obvious opposition between two distinct types of barriers: tangible vs. intangible, material vs. cerebral, and/or physical vs. mental. The barriers cataloged in this example, however, are not protective in nature; they are instead solely considered obstacles which negatively impact the listening process.
1 “Great Barrier Reef,” Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation; 2011 (accessed: Feb 12 2011).
2 “CORAL REEFS: Importance of Coral Reefs,” Ocean World. Texas A&M University; 2004 (accessed: Feb 12 2011).
3 “Trade barrier,” Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation; 2011 (accessed: Feb 12 2011).
4 Ibid. (accessed: Feb 12 2011).
5 “Workplace listening,” Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation; 2011 (accessed: Feb 12 2011).